One thing that I always loved doing at home was volunteering, and I knew when looking for a study abroad program that working with my community was something that I wanted to do. It is a great way to get even more immersed in the local culture, as you’re working directly with people from your study abroad city. It offers a way to get in touch and form connections with people that are not other American students from your program; it pushes you a little further outside of your comfort zone so that you don’t get trapped in a cycle of only seeing other Americans.
My volunteer experience was everything that I expected it to be and more. Another CEA student and I volunteered at an after-school center about a 15-minute walk from city center, where we helped kids with their English homework. We went every Monday night for about two hours, and by the end of the semester, it was one of the hardest things to part with. Our last day, the coordinators of the center told us how the kids would ask every week about when we were coming next and how sad they were that we weren’t coming back. I initially tried to do an internship in addition to classes while abroad, but a change in credit transfer with my home university made me change those plans. But making up for those hours by signing up to volunteer was one of the best things that I could have done! I loved getting to know people from the region in which I lived in a relaxed and fun environment.
Teaching English also taught me a lot of French, as kids are often some of the best teachers. They just talk and talk and don’t judge you like some adults may do when trying to speak their language. They will laugh when you pronounce “cou” like “cul” (look it up), but they also won’t be shy about helping you out. Volunteering is a great way to help and connect with a community and it does nothing but enrich your time abroad.
Alison Chilcott is a CEA Content Contributor who studied abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France, during the Fall 2019 semester. She is currently a student at the University of Pittsburgh.
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